On this day in 1800, William Holmes McGuffey was born. He is known for writing the McGuffey Readers. For their time, they were undoubtedly quite good. What I find most interesting about them is how conservatives since then—Even today!—love these books. It doesn’t make sense. There has been a lot of great children’s literature written since that time. What’s more, there is a much better understanding of reading levels. But the conservative love of the McGuffey Readers is not about pedagogy; it is about culture. They like the “old ways,” and whether they know it or not, that includes racism. The books are filled with antisemitism and other racist attitudes. Recent efforts to take the racism out of the books to make them more palatable for the home schooling market just proves the point. Why hang onto a set of racist books that is nearly 200 years old, if not to reinforce some very old cultural prejudices? McGuffey himself totally misunderstood the character of the recently created nation, “The Christian religion, is the religion of our country. From it are derived our prevalent notions of the character of God, the great moral governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions.” That’s wrong in just about every way possible and that is why many people love it today.
Typhoid Mary (Mary Mallon) was born in 1869. She was a cook in and around New York City who was a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. She was apparently responsible for transmitting the disease to a number of people who she worked for. As a result of this, the health department put her in “quarantine”—a nice name for jail. After three years, she was released on the condition that she not work in food service. But she found it hard to make a living doing laundry, so she soon went back to being a cook. Eventually she was caught and imprisoned for the remaining 23 years of her life. What I find interesting is that the state cared enough to imprison her and cared enough to deprive her a decent livelihood, but it didn’t care enough to provide her with a decent means of living that would have protected the public health. This is the great approach to public health that the Republican Party would like to return us to.
Flutist Julius Baker was born in 1915:
The great Ray Charles was born in 1930:
The great Bruce Springsteen is 64:
The day, however, belongs to the great jazz musician John Coltrane who was born on this day in 1926. There aren’t many people who do great work with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and manage to go on to do even greater work by themselves. Sadly, Coltrane died at just 40 years old of liver cancer. Still, he left us an amazing amount of material. This includes some of the very best free jazz. But here is some of his more traditional work, his great version of “My Favorite Things”:
Happy birthday John Coltrane!